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Honors Classes or Not? Consistency Across All Departments is Key
Board Editorial
November 9, 2018

The breadth of Deerfield’s course catalog is mind-boggling. Boasting 170 courses across eight academic departments, Deerfield offers just about any class students want to take.

Particularly for math and science courses, students can choose a specific level, such as regular, honors, or AP, to find a desired level of rigor. A student who is serious about pursuing advanced chemistry may study AP Chemistry; others may enjoy a more relaxed class by taking Chemistry I.

Credit: Madeline Lee

However, it is strange that the same breadth of levels is not available for English, social studies, and language classes. There are no official AP courses in any of these subjects, and though the language department offers honors options, there are only three honors history courses and no honors English classes at all.

The Scroll Editorial Board believes in the value of consistent levels across all academic departments. Standardized levels will offer fair opportunities to every student who wants to take challenging courses; in addition, they will give credit to students who challenge themselves.

During freshman and sophomore year, every student takes the same English class.

As upperclassmen, students merely have more freedom to choose a more narrow set of themes to explore without having an option to have a more relaxed or demanding English class.

Perhaps this is rooted in the idea that Deerfield upholds English, to some degree, as the one subject that grounds all students’ academic experiences at Deerfield. Declamations and Meditations are considered to be a “rite of passage” in the Deerfield experience, and English is the only subject with a 4-year graduation requirement.

While these efforts to give every Deerfield student an equal English education is admirable, it divides students in reality. Students who do not enjoy English much or for whom English is not their strong suit have no choice but to dedicate 50 minutes to homework every night. Students who want to pursue English at a high level may choose to work harder in these standardized English classes, but they will not be rewarded for their work in the same way strong STEM students are through their “honors” or “AP” distinction. The same analogy can be extended to most social studies classes and some language classes.

We realize that students who are passionate about humanities classes do not necessarily need higher level courses in order to feel challenged. However, these level distinctions are often beneficial for the college admissions process, when admissions officers need to quickly assess the breadth and rigor of students’ transcripts.

Although Deerfield alone cannot change the college admissions process, preserving this disparity between different subjects is misleading for everyone involved.

These issues can be solved by implementing a consistent system of levels across all departments. The Scroll Board is calling for one of three options: 1. Offering AP, honors, and regular levels for every core academic subject; 2. Offering honors and regular levels for every core academic subject; 3. No leveled classes at all.

Deerfield sends ambiguous messages about its academic mission by only offering the choice of different levels to select subjects. We at the Scroll hope the school seeks consistency in this regard across all academic departments.